Brazil’s president wins re-election

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff narrowly won re-election on Sunday after convincing voters of her party’s strong record of reducing poverty over the last 12 years.

Rousseff won 51.6 percent of votes in a runoff against centrist opposition leader Aecio Neves, who won 48.4 percent support.

The campaign was one of the most dramatic in Brazil since direct elections were restored in 1989. One candidate was killed in a plane crash in August, and his replacement then soared into the lead in opinion polls, only to fade in the final days before the first round of voting October 5.

The vote split Latin America’s biggest country almost evenly in two along lines of both social class and geography. Neves prevailed in Brazil’s richer south, southeast and centre-west, while Rousseff took the Amazon north and impoverished north-east.

Voting was peaceful.

The result means another four years in power for the Workers’ Party, which since 2003 has virtually transformed Brazil – lifting 40 million from poverty, reducing unemployment to record lows and making big inroads against hunger in what remains one of the world’s most unequal countries.

With 200 million people and a gross domestic product of $2-trillion, Brazil is Latin America’s largest economy and its most populous country.

Rousseff owed her victory to overwhelming support from the roughly 40 percent of Brazilians who live in households earning less than $700 a month.

They have benefited from the Workers’ Party’s rollout of a programme that pays a small monthly stipend to one in four Brazilian families, as well as federal housing programs, government-sponsored vocational schools and an expansion of credit to the working class.

Rousseff, 66, is unlikely to enjoy much, if any, of a honeymoon when her second term starts on New Year’s Day.

Marco Aurelio Garcia, a top Rousseff adviser on foreign affairs, sounded a defiant note shortly after the results were published. Asked what the government’s message to financial markets was, he replied: “Take tranquillisers.”

During the runoff, senior leaders from both parties compared their rivals to Nazis.

Rousseff, who was jailed and tortured in the early 1970s for opposing that era’s military dictatorship, is the country’s first woman president. The daughter of a Bulgarian aristocrat who emigrated to Brazil during World War 2, she was a relatively obscure government technocrat until her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva hand-picked her as his successor.

Many in the Workers’ Party are already thinking ahead to the next election in 2018, when Lula, who governed from 2003 to 2010, has said he may run again. Brazil’s constitution doesn’t allow presidents to seek a third consecutive term.

Rousseff repeatedly thanked Lula for his support on Sunday night, and gave him a big hug onstage.

Neves’ PSDB, meanwhile, faces an uncertain future after falling short in three straight presidential contests due in part to its image as the party of Brazil’s wealthy minority.